每日英語跟讀 Ep.918: Living in Hawaii, Aiming for Mars
On the way to Mars, Neil Scheibelhut stopped by a store for mouthwash and dental floss. “We’re picking up some last-minute things,” he said via cellphone on a recent afternoon.
Mr. Scheibelhut is not actually an astronaut leaving the earth. But three hours later, he and five other people stepped into a domeshaped building on a Hawaiian volcano where they will live for eight months, mimicking a stay on the surface of Mars.
This is part of a study financed by NASA, the American space agency. The goal of the Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation, or Hi-Seas for short , is to examine how well people, isolated from civilization, can get along and work together.
When astronauts finally head toward Mars years from now — NASA has tentatively scheduled the 2030s — it will be a long and lonely journey: about six months to Mars, 500 days on the planet, and then six months home.
“Right now, the psychological risks are still not completely understood and not completely corrected for,” said Kimberly Binsted of the University of Hawaii at Manoa and the principal investigator for the project. (She is not in the dome.) “NASA is not going to go until we solve this.”
Isolation can lead to depression. Personality conflicts can escalate over the months.
“How do you select and support astronauts for a mission that will last two to three years in a way that will keep them healthy and performing well?” Dr. Binsted said.
Or as Mr. Scheibelhut put it: “I’m so interested to see how I react. ‘I don’t know’ is the short answer. I think it could go a lot of different ways.”
Several mock Mars missions have been conducted in recent years. A simulation in Russia in 2010 and 2011 stretched 520 days . Four of the six volunteers developed sleep disorders and became less productive as the experiment progressed. The Mars Society, a nonprofit group that promotes human spaceflight, has run short simulations in the Utah desert since 2001 and is planning a oneyear simulation in the Canadian Arctic beginning in 2015.
Hi-Seas has conducted two four-month missions, and next year, six more people will reside for one year inside the dome, a two-story building 11 meters in diameter with about 140 square meters of space. It sits in an abandoned quarry at an altitude of 2,440 meters on Mauna Loa.
The six crew members in the Hi-Seas dome are largely cut off. Their communications to the world outside the dome are limited to email, and each message is delayed by 20 minutes before being sent, simulating the lag for communications to travel from Mars to Earth and vice versa.
On a real mission, the lag time would be considerably shorter as Mars and Earth moved closer together but, Dr. Binsted said, “We went with the worst case because we’re trying to solve the worstcase situation.”
The crew members are granted some exceptions. They can check a few websites, like their banking accounts, to ensure that their earth lives do not fall apart while they are away. There is also a cellphone for emergency communications .
Some 150 people applied to participate. Dr. Binsted said the three men and three women were chosen to have a mix of experience and backgrounds similar to those of NASA astronauts.
Mr. Scheibelhut, 38, had worked on the first Hi-Seas mission as part of the support crew. “I thought it would be really cool to be part of what’s going on inside,” he said.
Each crew member is receiving round-trip airfare to Hawaii, a $11,500 stipend, and food and lodging.
The goal is to maintain cohesion among the crew members, but that can lead to problems. “They become more independent when they are more cohesive,” Dr. Binsted said, and such a crew could spar with mission control.
The researchers will also be looking for signs of “third-quarter syndrome.” At the beginning of the mission, the experience is new and exciting. Then, in the second quarter of the mission, people fall into routines. Near the end, people can look forward to getting out and returning to the real world.
In the middle, there can be a stretch when routines turn into tedium without end. “That third quarter can be a bit of a bummer,” Dr. Binsted said.
Like real astronauts, the Hi- Seas crew will be busy performing a variety of scientific work, including excursions outside the dome in spacesuits.
“If you’re going to keep people in a can for eight months, you want to get as much science out of them as possible,” Dr. Binsted said. “It also means NASA gets a lot of bang for their buck.”
Source article: https://paper.udn.com/udnpaper/POH0067/268839/web/